Public Domain was the first stop on my PDX trifecta the other day and I didn’t talk much about the café, so I would like to fill in some of the details today.
Public Domain used to be known as the Portland Coffeehouse and I had not been to the location since it was remodeled and re-branded. The difference between the two is like the difference between a dark, stormy night and a bright, sunny day. I was stunned by the transformation of what had been a grungy Portland coffee shop into the sleek, sparkling, super-hip-looking Public Domain.
Located one block north of Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, Public Domain is a café owned by Portland’s Coffee Bean International. When you walk into the café, you notice two things. First, from the smell of the coffee, you know you are in a place that has high respect for the beverage. The aromas are strong and sweet, and they really stand out.
The second thing you notice is that the shop is very open and built for interaction with the baristas. There is a four-carafe pour-over station just to the left of the cash register, so if you order brewed coffee you can watch each step in the pour-over process. Unlike most cafés, the two espresso machines at Public Domain have been placed out front in such a way that the espresso bar resembles a stage. The low bar around them lets you clearly watch the baristas and ask them questions. The art and technology of coffee are on display, as they should be.
The café itself is very lustrous and modern. The new hardwood floor shines and the machines gleam below bright mini-spotlights. It was so bright in the café that I was reminded of being inside a jewelry store. The minimalist furniture adds to the modern feel. This upscale environment can be a little intimidating and may make you feel underdressed, until you remember that this is Portland and people wear jeans and tennis shoes just about anywhere.
The baristas are enthusiastic about their coffee too. Jon, one of the baristas, was very happy to share his coffee knowledge with us, and I overheard the other barista discussing the differences between Northwest espresso and Italian espresso with another customer (“The rest of the world is still fighting the Italians,” he explained). I ordered Public Domain’s Prometheus blend espresso. The sign described it as having tart cherry, savory herbs and lemongrass flavors. I’m not sure about the flavors, but I will say that the texture was super smooth, silky even. The barista had pulled the shot well.
Overall, I was impressed with Public Domain. The café does a good job of making the art of coffee the focus of the café, and the beauty of the bright lights reflecting off the gleaming machines sticks in my memory. The intense lights and the trendy feel help the café stand out among PDX cafés. The chairs aren’t overly comfortable, so you probably wouldn’t go there to settle in and read a book, but you could certainly go there to enjoy some good coffee.
Address: 603 SW Broadway, Portland, Oregon 97205 (map)
Hours: Monday-Friday 6am-7pm
Coffee: Public Domain (by Coffee Bean International), with some guest coffees too
Free Wi-Fi? I think so. I forgot to look, but there were a few people staring at their laptops
Recommend it? Yes—for the coffee, not the chairs